This Month's Picks

The Liberator [OST] (CD)

Gustavo Dudamel, Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela
Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor and violinist Gustavo Dudamel has completed work on his first score for the South American film The Libertador. Originally asked to just be a musical advisor, Dudamel kept picturing his own soundtrack to the film’s imagery. After composing some pieces on the piano with the script in mind, director Alberto Arvelo asked Dudamel to write the score. Heavily inspired by advice Dudamel received from award winning composer, conductor and pianist John Williams, the soundtrack has a Post-Mahlerian feel while contributions from the Simon Boliver Symphony Orchestra and important figures in the Venezuelen folk music scene add a distinctive Latin American flavor to the work. The result is hauntingly ethereal and full of tension. Fans of Dudamel can hear the suite from Libertador in its entirety at the Hollywood Bowl on July 31st.More
Genre: Soundtracks

Lese Majesty (CD)

Shabazz Palaces
Led by Ishmael Butler (formerly ‘Butterfly’ of Digable Planets) and multi-instrumentalist Tendai ‘Baba’ Maraire, Seattle duo Shabazz Palaces take hip-hop out of the streets and into the astral plane. Their 2011 debut Black Up was a critically acclaimed space age masterpiece with fragmented beats over dark, hallucinatory soundscapes. The follow up, Lese Majesty, continues where Black Up left off while sprawling into other dimensions of sound and space. Featuring 18 songs grouped into seven suites, the album expands rather than drags, showcasing Tendai’s dilated rhythmic mastery and Ishmael’s inimitable way with words. With a playing time of 45 minutes, Lese Majesty takes us back to an age when musicians embraced the long player format. Each song beautifully melts into the next one to create a mood instead of just another hit. Like a galactic sonic roller coaster, Shabazz Palaces are challenging and expanding the hip-hop landscape, taking it to the moon and beyond.More
Genre: Hip Hop

Gemini, Her Majesty (CD)

Rx Bandits
O.C.’s Rx Bandits haven’t released an album in five years, which is maybe why Gemini, Her Majesty is such a treat. The band’s high-tension alt-prog sounds like something that’s been bottled up for too long and waiting to explode, offering smoke before the fire on the choral “Intro” and then launching into the steadily building riffs of “Ruby Cumulous.” They sound like successors to The Police on the confident “Wide Open,” reining in their expert riffery to focus on melodicism. When they can dispense both catchy melodies and pummeling musicianship, as on single “Stargazer,” the band is damn near unstoppable, doling out chugging riffs and dynamic rhythms while tying ribbons of harmonic guitarwork around them and exploding into a singalong chorus. There are times when you want Rx Bandits to let the songs breathe a bit more so their melodies will stick, but the chilled-out vibe the band is going for gets top billing on “Meow! Meow! Space Tiger,” a sparkling, beachy ode to staring at the sky and “finding your truth.” The band walk a fine line—how is it possible to sound so laid back and yet so detailed and precise at the same time? Rx Bandits somehow make it work on this terrific comeback record.More
Genre: Rock

Clear Lake Forest (CD)

The Black Angels
For those that missed picking up a copy of The Black Angels’ Clear Lake Forest EP on Record Store Day, you are in luck. This seven-song psychedelic nugget has been re-released on 12” clear vinyl, CD and digital download. Floating in the bluesy, acid-laced waters of their 2013 release, Indigo Meadow, the Angels continue their mastery of sun-kissed sonic kaleidoscopes. Opening track “Sunday Evening” jangles and pops while lyrically posing the question, “What if I told you that everything you know isn’t even really true?” From there, “Third Eyes” and “Diamond Eyes” showcase the Angels perfection at layering fuzzy noise and sunshine pop while “The Flop” and “Occurrence at 4507 South Third Street” are organ driven, up-tempo numbers that channel a surf party on acid. Taking things down a notch, “The Executioner” is a blues inspired maelstrom of distortion and reverb with the rather hedonistic message, “If it feels good, do it again.” The final track, “Linda’s Gone,” manages to encapsulate everything great about the Velvet Underground while still sounding like the Black Angels. These Austin psyche revivalists may not be inventing the wheel but Clear Lake Forest proves they are always moving forward while taking the listener on a wild ride.More
Genre: Rock

Pe'ahi (CD)

The Raveonettes
Danish noise pop darlings the Raveonettes have lightened things up a bit with their latest release, Pe’ahi. Appropriately titled after a town on the north shore of Maui, Hawaii, you can see that Wagner and Foo have been using surf culture as their latest muse, both sonically and lyrically. Combining surf-pop, warm fuzz, and tropicana with the bright melodies and girl group harmonies they are best known for; this is their most dynamic and baroque work since 2008’s Lust Lust Lust. Tracks like “Endless Sleeper” and “Sisters” drown you in warm fuzz while dreamy songs like “Killer In The Streets” let you float through glorious waves of melancholy. The mood of the album is breezier and more upbeat than previous efforts and is set to be the definitive summer soundtrack.More
Genre: Rock

Complete Surrender (CD)

Slow Club
From the twee indie-folk of their 2009 debut Oh Yeah to the darker and richly layered Paradise, Sheffield duo Rebecca Taylor and Charles Watson (Slow Club) continue to sonically evolve with their third full-length album, Complete Surrender; their most self assured and streamlined effort to date. Heavily influenced by R&B and girl group sounds, Taylor and Watson stray from their panoptic song structure of the past to embrace a more stripped down approach. The delicate simplicity of these more basic song arrangements only further enhances what Slow Club is known best for, powerfully rich vocal harmonies earnestly expressing love and loss. With soulful numbers like “Suffering You, Suffering Me” and “Not Mine To Love,” Complete Surrender often feels like a tear stained pillow fight at Stax Records. With that in mind, it never comes of as gimmicky or retro. Instead, Slow Club manages to combine Northern soul with bedroom pop to create the breakup anthems of your dreams.More
Genre: Rock

Sound Of Change (CD)

Dirty Heads

For their new album, Dirty Heads have changed things up a bit. The reggae-influenced Cali band have made things pop a bit more, heightening the impact of the beats and beachy melodies on songs like “My Sweet Summer.” “Burn Slow” sees the band going more full-on hip-hop, erupting into an unexpectedly speedy flow partway through that serves as a counterbalance to the song’s overall laid-back vibe. On the title track, the band seems to address its own ever-evolving sound, building up acoustic guitars, harmonies and a rap-like delivery into a grandiose chorus, hitting on the allure of folk-rockers like Mumford & Sons. Occasionally Sound of Change falls prey to trying to please everyone all the time, but what they’ve lost in having one steady sound they’ve gained in wide appeal, as the band aptly handles every avenue down which it takes it sound and sheds some of the overt Sublime influence that previously marked the band. Fans of Dirty Heads should have no problem getting with the band’s new sound, and the winning Sound of Change should see plenty of new fans flocking to the Dirty Heads fold as well.

More
Genre: Rock

Constricting Rage of the Merciless (CD)

Goatwhore

Goatwhore have little use for the trappings of the specificities of heavy metal subgenres. The so-called blackened death metal band will start with pulverizing beats and riffs in a song like the epic “Schadenfreude” and promptly move into melodic, straight-forward metal riffery and growled yet intelligible vocals detailing the downward spiral of humanity. They touch on thrash metal with the early Metallica-inspired “FBS,” packing as many dynamic changes into the song as possible without sounding busy or sloppy. And “Bearing Teeth For Revolt” has some real old-school metal flair, drumming up fond memories of Judas Priest with its tasty licks. So Goatwhore might not like being penned in when it comes to crafting their nuanced metal mayhem. So what? With Constricting Rage of the Merciless, New Orleans’ Goatwhore take what they like about various metal subgenres and weld them together into something powerful and unique.

More
Genre: Rock

Life Is Easy (CD)

Bright Light Bright Light

If Erasure’s Andy Bell was born a millennial, he might have sounded like Bright Light Bright Light. Rod Thomas’ project can be described as disco-folk—Thomas first worked as a folk artist, busking and recording demos until working with the right producers to find his sound—so his second album, Life Is Easy, sounds like a nu-disco record with a folk core. Songs like “There Are No Miracles” hearken back to a time when danceable pop songs had heart, as Thomas sings about hard life lessons over dazzling production. On album highlight “I Wish We Were Leaving,” Thomas gets to work with musical hero Elton John (with whom he’s toured), singing with an invigorated John and crafting a soothing New Age-inspired pop tune. And just when Life Is Easy is in danger of feeling a bit sleepy, Thomas drops “An Open Heart” into the mix, a booming, irresistible synth-popper, and the house-inspired “Good Luck,” successfully bridging the gap between the ’80s pop that has informed Thomas’ sound and modern, radio-ready dance music. On Life Is Easy, Thomas creates dynamic, modern pop with real feeling that somehow sounds effortless.

More
Genre: Rock

High Life (CD)

Brian Eno, Karl Hyde

Two months after releasing Someday World, wry public intellectual and musical polymath Brian Eno is releasing another album in collaboration with Underworld's crooning braintrust and techno-minded guitar manipulator Karl Hyde. Birthed out of the same sessions that gave us Someday World, High Life is less pop and more pure polyrhythmic experimentalism. The record is a little more repetitive, a little more meditative, but equally high energy and equally afro-kraut injected. Decidedly weirder than the last record, I think this is the album I was hoping the last one would be. Funny that this one should be called High Life while the previous record owed much more to that specific Ghanaian genre of guitar pop. This record traverses electronic glitch skitter shuffle to filthy dense guitar processing expertly and occasionally melodically, returning now and then to the strange global pop of the group's previous collaboration. Recommended.

More
Genre: Rock